Se puede

Whenever you move somewhere new, there is an adjustment period. Not only to the weather or food or customs or language, but to understanding what is possible and what simply cannot be done.

In Guatemala, it seems, everything is possible.

You want to move into a new house in two hours? You’d like a mattress delivered to the side of a cliff and lowered by crane? You want my cousin to construct two baby gates for the stairs out of wood, stain them, and install them tonight? You’d like me to drive you three hours to the city, wait four hours, and then bring you back, all with a half-hour’s notice? You have 15 lbs of dirty laundry you want washed by tomorrow?

You want to build a pier in front of your house but don’t have a permit?

You want to open a bank account? You want to bathe in hot water?

You want dependable electricity? Sure.

Or, in local parlance, se puede.

An exact translation is ‘it can be’, but colloquially I take it to mean ‘sure’, ‘of course’, ‘why not?’ The world is your oyster.

Let’s say, for example, that the view from your bedroom window was blocked by a ratty, peeling tree, and that this tree was not on your property. Let’s say it’s unclear whose property the tree is on; it may even be municipal property. Could, with favorable weather conditions, the light of a full moon, and the willing ignorance of a few local elders, this tree be felled in the dead of night?

Se puede.

There are, however, limits to se puede. ‘It can be’ does not mean ‘it will be’. Some people here are quick to make promises, promises, they know they cannot keep. Or rather, not make promises. After all, they did not tell you it would be, only that it could be. What is possible is not always probable. After all, isn’t almost anything possible?

The Life of Se Puede is a life of opportunity. Real Guatemalan Life means doing everything at least twice, and paying three times what you were told it would cost. And not having a bank account or regular hot water. And waiting, waiting, waiting.

(We’ll see what happens with the tree.)

And yet, bizarrely, some things happen fast. For example, today I used a power washer. The borrowing of many hoses, the finding of a super-long extension cord, and the hooking up all happened quickly. It only took 15 minutes from initial request to me peeling the paint off this wall like an absolute boss for the amusement of several street youths. No hi-viz vest, no permit, no problem. Se puede.

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